Posts for category: Oral Health
Although cancer treatment has advanced steadily in recent decades, the most used therapies continue to be radiation and chemotherapy to eradicate cancerous cells. And while they often work, both can cause "collateral damage" in healthy tissues near the targeted cells.
This can create a number of indirect consequences for a patient's health, including in the mouth. The salivary glands, for example, can be damaged by radiation treatments aimed at the head or neck. The effect on these glands can interrupt the normal flow of saliva and cause xerostomia or "dry mouth."
Lack of adequate saliva causes more than an unpleasant, sticky mouth feeling. One of saliva's main functions is to neutralize acid that builds up naturally after eating. Without it, high acid levels can cause enamel and root surface erosion and lead to tooth decay.
Cancer treatment can also contribute to gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). This disease causes stomach acid to bypass the natural tissue barriers of the esophagus and enter the mouth. As with dry mouth, the increased acid level from GERD can be just as devastating to enamel—and the damage will be permanent.
To minimize these effects on your dental health, it's important to take proactive steps before, during and after cancer treatment. If at all possible, have any needed dental work performed before you begin radiation or chemotherapy—it's better to start it with teeth and gums as healthy as possible.
During treatment, try to continue regular dental visits to monitor your oral health and receive any needed preventive or therapeutic treatments. Depending on your condition and the advice of your dentist, you may need to increase your visit frequency during this time. Your dentist can help with boosting your saliva production and strengthening your tooth enamel. But you should also practice daily brushing and flossing, drink plenty of water and seek treatment for any resulting GERD symptoms.
Even with the best efforts, though, your teeth and gums may still incur damage while treating your cancer. Fortunately, there are a wide array of materials and procedures that can effectively restore them to health. So, once your treatments are completed consult with a dentist on your options for improving the health and appearance of your teeth and gums.
For a healthy pregnancy, it helps to have healthy teeth and gums. In fact, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) encourages its members to advise expectant moms to see their dentist. But maintaining oral health can be more challenging when you’re expecting. For one thing, hormonal changes make you more susceptible to periodontal (gum) disease, which has been linked to “systemic” (general body) health problems including preterm labor and low birth weight.
Periodontal (gum) disease results from the buildup of bacterial plaque on tooth surfaces in the absence of good oral hygiene. It typically starts as gingivitis — inflammation and redness around the gum margins and bleeding when brushing and flossing. If the infection progresses, it can attack the structures supporting the teeth (gums, ligaments, and bone) and may eventually result in tooth loss. And if the infection enters the bloodstream, it can pose health risks elsewhere in the body. Studies suggest that oral bacteria and their byproducts are able to cross the placenta and trigger an inflammatory response in the mother, which may in turn induce early labor.
TLC for Your Oral Environment
Brushing twice daily with fluoride toothpaste and flossing or using another interdental cleaner at least once daily is your first-line defense again bacteria buildup. Professional cleanings are also important to remove hardened plaque (calculus) that brushing and flossing may miss. And regular checkups can catch problems early to avoid or minimize adverse effects. Periodontal disease and tooth decay aren’t always painful or the pain may subside, so you won’t always know there’s a problem.
Dental emergencies such as cavities, root canals and tooth fractures should be treated promptly to address pain and infection, thereby reducing stress to the developing fetus. Of course, if you know you need a cavity filled or a root canal prior to becoming pregnant, that’s the optimal time to get treated!
If you would like more information about dental care during pregnancy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Pregnancy and Oral Health.”
If you're the principal caregiver for an older person, you may have already faced age-related health challenges with them. Good preventive care, however, can ease the impact of health problems. This is especially true for their teeth and gums: with your support you're loved one can have fewer dental problems and enjoy better health overall.
Here are a number of things you should focus on to protect an older person's dental health.
Hygiene difficulties. With increased risk of arthritis and similar joint problems, older people may find brushing and flossing more difficult. You can help by modifying their toothbrush handles with a tennis ball or bicycle grip for an easier hold, or switch them to an electric toothbrush. A water flosser, a device that uses a pressurized water spray to remove plaque, may also be easier for them to use than thread flossing.
Dry mouth. Xerostomia, chronic dry mouth, is more prevalent among older populations. Dry mouth can cause more than discomfort—with less acid-neutralizing saliva available in the mouth, the risk for dental diseases like tooth decay or periodontal (gum) disease can soar. To improve their saliva flow, talk with their doctors about alternative medications that cause less dry mouth; and encourage your loved one to drink more water and use products that help boost saliva flow.
Dentures. If your older person wears dentures, be sure these appliances are being cleaned and maintained daily to maximize their function and reduce disease-causing bacteria. You should also have their dentures fit-tested regularly—chronic jawbone loss, something dentures can't prevent, can loosen denture fit over time. Their dentures may need to be relined or eventually replaced to ensure continuing proper fit and function.
Osteoporosis. This common disease in older people weakens bone structure. It's often treated with bisphosphonates, a class of drugs that while slowing the effects of osteoporosis can cause complications after certain dental procedures. It's a good idea, then, for an older person to undergo any needed dental work before they go on osteoporosis medication.
Keep alert also for any signs of dental disease like unusual spots on the teeth or swollen or bleeding gums. Visiting the dentist for these and regular dental cleanings, checkups and oral cancer screenings could prevent many teeth and gum problems.
If you would like more information on senior dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Aging & Dental Health.”
It's National Nutrition Month! Good nutrition is key to overall health, but poor dental health can have a big impact on your ability to get the right nutrients. Your mouth is the first step in the digestive system, so if teeth and gums are in poor shape, food choices can be severely limited. Here are some nutritional guidelines that will benefit your oral health as well as your overall health.
Get plenty of fruits and vegetables. Plant foods provide many oral health benefits:
- Crunchy fruits and vegetables scrub debris from your teeth during chewing and stimulate the production of saliva, which neutralizes acid and helps rebuild tooth enamel.
- Dark, leafy greens are a good source of iron, calcium and many vitamins that are good for your teeth and gums.
- Several fruits have vitamin C, an essential for healthy gums.
- Bananas have magnesium, which builds tooth enamel.
- Many yellow and orange fruits supply vitamin A, which keeps the soft membranes in your mouth healthy.
Go for dairy. Dairy products—for example, cheese, milk and unsweetened yogurt—neutralize acid as well as contribute tooth- and bone-strengthening minerals such as calcium and phosphorus.
Eat whole grains. An excess of refined carbohydrates can lead to chronic inflammation, which contributes to gum disease and many other ailments. However, the complex carbohydrates found in whole grains work against inflammation.
Incorporate all food groups. Strive to eat a balanced diet that includes healthy foods from all food groups. For example:
- Lean proteins are essential for keeping your teeth and gums healthy.
- Good fats such as those found in salmon and nuts work against inflammation. In addition, nuts stimulate the production of saliva and contain vitamins and minerals to keep teeth strong.
- Legumes are a great source of many tooth-healthy vitamins and minerals.
Limit sugary or acidic foods and beverages. Acid from certain foods and beverages can weaken tooth enamel, leading to cavities. The bacteria in your mouth feed on sugar and release acid that eats away at tooth enamel, causing cavities. How you eat and drink also affects dental health. For example, if you indulge in sugary treats, do so with a meal if possible so that other foods can help neutralize the acid. And if you drink lemonade or soda, don't brush your teeth immediately afterwards. Instead, wait at least 30 minutes before brushing to give your saliva a chance to neutralize the acid.
Getting the right nutrition for a healthy body requires good dental health, so it pays to take good care of your teeth. For a lifetime of good oral health, choose foods that keep your teeth and gums healthy, and don't forget to schedule regular dental checkups to make sure your teeth and gums are in great shape. If you have questions about diet and oral health, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation.
When you visit us for your regular checkup we're examining more than your teeth and gums. We're also checking to see if you're having problems with soft tissues in and around your mouth.
Besides canker sores, rashes or other types of abnormalities, our exam may uncover strange looking lesions known as lichen planus on the inside of the mouth. These purple-tinted bumps or rash-like discolorations are named for their similarity in appearance to lichen fungi found on trees or rocks. Although these mouth sores may look odd, they're fairly rare and usually do not cause concern.
Most people don't even know they have lichen planus until it's discovered during a dental exam. If there are any symptoms, it's usually a feeling of roughness, tenderness or itching. They may increase your sensitivity to spicy or acidic foods, but rarely cause extreme pain. If they're located around the gums, you may also notice a little soreness after brushing or eating.
To confirm it is lichen planus, we need to perform a biopsy. During this procedure, we remove a tiny amount of the affected tissue and have it examined microscopically. We do this not only to determine the correct diagnosis, but also to rule out more serious problems like pre-cancerous lesions or oral cancer.
Thankfully, though, this worst case scenario is quite rare, and although the condition can't be cured, there are some things you can do to keep any discomfort to a minimum. If the lesions are irritating, we recommend using a soft toothbrush with gentle brushing action. You may also want to limit or avoid spicy or acidic foods like citrus, tomatoes, hot peppers and caffeinated drinks. Managing stress can also help. For some extreme conditions, we can prescribe a topical steroid to help relieve discomfort.
If you notice any of the above symptoms, be sure to contact us or point it out at your next appointment. Once we know what we're dealing with, we can take steps to treat you.
If you would like more information on different types of mouth sores, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Lichen Planus.”